Sexual harassment in the workplace is like an iceberg, explains a 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Behaviors above the surface, such as unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion, are easily seen. But the vast majority of sexual harassment occurs subsurface, in ways that are often overlooked and underreported: words and actions that convey hostility, objectification or subordinate status toward members of one gender.
A more recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges showed that, between 2019 and 2021, 34% of women faculty and 22% of all faculty in U.S. medical schools have experienced sexual harassment.
Seen or not, sexual harassment can, like an iceberg, do irreversible damage to careers, research projects and organizations. And it leads to a loss of talent as women -- especially those with intersectional identities -- and sexual and gender minorities leave the workforce. This is especially problematic for the biomedical research workplace, where four conditions known to contribute to sexual harassment -- male-dominated work settings, workplace hierarchy, settings of isolation and a culture of tolerance for sexual harassment -- are prevalent, according to the National Academies' 2018 report.
How can we put a stop to sexual harassment in the biomedical research workplace? To find out, the National Institutes of Health is funding a Stanford Medicine-led study, "Sexual harassment Training Of Principal investigators," or STOP. Through virtual, multimodal trainings that incorporate interactive gaming elements, the goal of the five-year study is to decrease sexual harassment and improve the retention of women in science.